How Many Words in a Novel, Short Story or Book?

18 March, 2022 § Leave a comment

Is a novel 50,000 or 120,000? Is a short story 1000 words or 10,000? Well … it depends. I know. You wanted something concrete, didn’t you. Sorry. But we’re largely talking about creative writing here and that is inexact: it’s art, after all.

Let’s play with some ballpark figures to satisfy your curiosity and test your commitment to writing that opus.

A novel can be anywhere from 50,000 to 120,000 – most novels, however, fall in the 80,000 to 100,000 band. If anything, novels are becoming smaller as readers appetites change and the industry proceeds in a state of flux following the spread of indie publishing.

Genre tends to favour broad word counts. Historical fiction often heads to the top end of the range while lighter romance may be at the lighter end. Young Adult often finds its mark around the 40,000 to 60,000 word zone.

At the other end of the spectrum, a short story tends to be in the 5,000 to 10,000 word range. If you are entering competitions though, follow their guidelines: if they ask for a 1,000 word short story then stick to that; if they want 2,500 words, comply. The competition organiser is the one you need to please so make sure you do not go over their word count.

Children’s books vary by age grouping. Picture books romp in around the 300-600 word count while sub-teens are from 1,000 to 10,000 and teens are able to manage 20,000 to 50,000 words.

As I said, word count is a tad flexible.

Reedsy posit the following:

  • Short story: under 7,500
  • Novelette: between 7,500 and 17,500
  • Novella: between 17,500 and 40,000
  • Novel: over 40,000 but generally 50,000-70,000

If you’re looking more on the short side, there’s a difference between and dribble and a drabble.

In summary, there are no hard and fast rules but there are broad parameters to what is considered acceptable length for various forms and genres. Bear in mind there are exceptions and they survive because the story carried despite the normal word count.

So, if you are entering a competition, stick to the requested word count or you will be disqualified without even been read.

If you are looking to write a story, determine a general indicative word length then write away. Revision and editing is where you then firm up the word count. For most writers, once they get the first draft down it is more likely to be a case of cutting words than padding them out. The story will take the space it needs. Crafting the draft will tell you whether you have a novel or a novella.

The Rocks Scaffolding of 3 Acts

15 March, 2022 § Leave a comment

When it comes to writing a play or a novel, the three-act form of Opening Act, Middle Act and Closing Act is a fundamental structure. Deceptively simple, it has stood the test of time and still works today. Short stories or novels can benefit from this approach.

To actually explain how to go about creating the three acts in a way that provides depth for the reader, there’s an often-quoted mantra that goes something like this:

“In the first act you get him up a tree, in the second act you throw rocks at him and in the third act you get him down from the tree.”

Personally, it is a clear clarification, if I may be allowed a redundant phrase. When you substitute obstacles or problems for rocks, you get the drift of creating tension and conflict in a story.

For this post, however, I wanted to find the origin of the quote as I’ve seen it attributed to local writers, published greats like Stephen King and Ray Bradbury, most often Vladimir Nabakov, and others.

What did we ever do before search engines?

A quick search can throw up many examples and attributions of this quote but one website has investigated the phrase and found its first use appearing in 1897 by an anonymous writer. You can read the research findings here –

Once upon a time, we relied on the exactness of the Encyclopedia Brittanica to be the font of all researched wisdom. The internet has disrupted that model and now I see many quotes badly attributed and promulgated online. Expedience trumps accuracy these days.

Despite the vagaries of attribution, the gist of this is that the phrase encapsulates beautifully the basic construct of a story, especially a short story.

So, when you next sit down to enter that story competition, remember the rocks and the tree.

Chloe Higgins and The Writers’ Inner World

14 November, 2021 § Leave a comment

Chloe Higgins has a PhD in Creative Writing and undertook a writers retreat. Despite (or perhaps enhanced by) her formal studies in writing creatively, she managed to write 30,000 words in 30 days after being inspired by that retreat. She had laboured writing a book beforehand and failed to meet with success. Once completed, she submitted her fresh work to a publisher, and was published, winning awards for her book. “The Girls” tells the story of her experience of dealing with the death of her two sisters in a tragic car accident. Memoirs are often painful and illuminating.

I’ve sat in on many Zoom-type workshops, seminars and classes over the period of the pandemic. Most of those have been either writing sessions (it helps to have some company when you’re writing sometimes), or have been topic or skill driven writing content. I signed up for a session by Chloe which she offered gratis as a segue into her paid courses.

The appeal of attending this was that it was based on the nuances of the inner world of the writer. It encapsulates what Chloe learned from both her academic studies and more importantly consequent to her retreat. The number of attendees attested to the need for such a session.

As a group we were invited to pen our thoughts on some key questions which Chloe asked as a lead-in to her beliefs about writing. For one, when we write we tend to let our head interfere so that we have our piece sound right, look right, meet standards etc. Chloe posits to write from the body with emotion and authenticity and heart.

Ritualising your writing is a practice writer after writer espouses. Chloe Higgins gave sound explanations of the value of doing this and went through the yin and yang benefits of having a structure eg the elements of a space, a time, a day as well as the less looked at elements such as boundaries and expectations we set ourselves either consciously or unconsciously.

Consider your writing routine now, or lack of it. Do you write on specific days and times of the day or ad hoc? How do you manage disruptions and distractions, are you clear on what you will be writing about, are you bounded by word counts or page counts or productive time, what is the physical space like where you write and is your desk laid out ready?

Is there value in writing in nature, intuitively? Is perfectionism hampering you – accept the benefit of sloppy first drafts, write from your heart more than your head, focus on the process rather than the product? When writing how do you handle triggers? Avoid being judgmental of your writing and recognise that the emotion you feel needs to fuel the page. Notice the relationship between what ends up on the page and what happens in real life – does it mirror? Do you find yourself avoiding writing certain tings or covering certain topics? Consider raising questions about these areas rather than trying to explain them and giving a solution.

Chloe Higgins encourages you to think about serving yourself first by writing rather than focusing on the reader.

All humans and so all writers suffer from limiting beliefs. We have expectations of ourselves in terms of the quality of work we produce, about our discipline or consistency, that we can only write when our muse inspires us. Chloe invites you to think about writing practice as training a muscle. Build the habit of writing (even rubbish) over time and your words will come more easily and in better form.

A final thought Chloe left us with was the journey from writing to publishing. Starter writers see the flow as directly from one to the other: you write your book and then it gets published. Those who’ve been in the game longer notice the journey is wide between the two events. It’s like a mountain range, up and down. Chloe argues that every hour of writing she does results in ten hours of editing.

As a memoirist, Chloe posits that memoir is about writing your way to radical self responsibility. Quite often when we begin to write we point the finger outwards, blaming others for what was done or not done, said or not said, making excuses for why things turned out the way they did. Instead, point the finger inwards. Focus on writing about what you have control over and where your boundaries are. It becomes a journey of self-discovery and if you’re truly in the mode of writing from your heart authentically and intuitively then what to write about doesn’t become an issue – the topic chooses itself. When you sit down to write, ask yourself ‘what is the most urgent thing to write about for my body?’ – you might be surprised about what turns up on the page.

Overall, it was a refreshing session, different from the norm and wholly practising what Chloe preaches ie writing from within rather than from the head. Timing doesn’t allow me to take on her full class right now but I will keep an eye out for when she runs it again. Even though I tend not to write memoir, I can see the value in her approach and she has a gentle guiding style that will enable writers to explore beyond where they normally go.

Find out more about Chloe’s classes here –

Chloe Maree Higgins is a writer, and the Director and founder of Wollongong Writers Festival. She lives and works between Wollongong and Western Sydney. Her writing explores grief, guilt gender, socially-stigmatised sex, family dynamics, authenticity and communication.

NB this is not a sponsored post, simply a recording of notes from attending a one-hour session titled “How to Make Writing Pleasurable” by Chloe Higgins.

How to Learn Creative Writing

20 September, 2021 § 1 Comment

Want to learn how to write creatively? Most writers start out thinking they can write. Some can. Many realise after initial attempts that there’s an endless litany of lessons to be learned. Plot, Structure. Theme. Characters. Setting. Tropes. Editing, Publishing. And they are just the big topics.

When wanting to develop your writing skills, there are two avenues to follow, or are there?

  1. hunt for a tertiary education eg Masters in Creative Writing
  2. hit the search engines and see what turns up

Many published authors are disparaging of getting formal qualifications as a writer. Some are published because they wrote their seminal book as part of their degree. Can you teach creative writing? Yes, insomuch as there are conventions and techniques to be learned. Yes, insofar as gaining the discipline to produce a body of work. The question is how many people start a creative writing qualification compared to those who publish as a result? Is there a set of statistics to validate the value of a degree in writing?

Tap ‘creative writing’ into an accepted search engine and you will return over 1.5 billion results. Amongst those will be articles, blog posts, videos, and courses. Narrow that search to ‘learn how to write fiction’ and you will find more than 500 million references. That is a lot of rabbit holes to chase down to find the nugget you seek. There has never been a better time to learn to write well in terms of the volume of information and resources available to you. There has never been a more confusing time to learn how to write well given that very same volume of information and resources. What tends to happen is you dig around the results from your search and before you know it you either lose hours stuck in the web of usefulness or you find as you dig deeper there is so much more for you to learn. Either way, what you are not doing is the very thing you seek to do: write.

By all means, if you have time or money to invest in digging deep into the web offerings or a formal qualification, take that path if it suits you.

Let me give you alternatives.

  1. Write as often and for as long as you can. Each time you write you will develop your craft. Freewriting is a good way to kick this habit off. Simply commit to writing for ten minutes at a time without lifting the pen off the page. After a time you will notice the difference in your writing and will spot a few story ideas.
  2. Read as much as you can, even if it’s just a page a day, preferably in the style you enjoy – crime, romance, historical, memoir. Each read will implant a sense of structure and style in your mind which will spill onto the page as you write. Highlight passages that grab you, note sentences that strike you, jot down ideas that come to you. This is learning, not copying. You are teaching yourself by reading published authors. 
  3. Spend time in your local library. Check the books on their shelves in the writing and literature section – take one or two home and learn from them. Borrow Stephen King’s ‘On Writing”, Anne Lamotte’s ‘Bird by Bird’, Stephen Zinsser’s ‘On Writing Well’, Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down the Bones’ to name a few. Ask your librarian about Book Clubs – they often run quite a few and will encourage you to read widely. Most libraries also have access to Historical Resources to explore local history or family history – both great sources of inspiration for writing ideas.
  4. Find a couple of easy, low-risk writing competitions which give you prompts to write to and a deadline to end on. Books or websites with writing prompts are good but it’s too easy to procrastinate without a time limit. Writer’s groups often have writing comps and exercises to improve your writing.
  5. Join your local writing group – you will get access to workshops, talks, craft development and feedback amongst other things. The cameraderie in writing groups is only limited by your preparedness to get involved. You may or may not find someone who writes in your genre but all chances to improve your writing don’t come packaged in neat little bundles. You have to untie them to find what’s inside, but all are learning opportunities. 

Learning how to write is best achieved by finding what works from those who have gone before, and writing as often as you can. Keep in mind though, once you start writing, there is no end to the learning.

There is always something to pick up along the way and play with.

And if it’s not fun, why do it?


Best Selling Author Talk – Fiona McArthur

14 September, 2021 § Leave a comment

When you have an opportunity to hear an author talk, it pays to listen. Especially if that author is successful, as in some fifty published books or more – both traditional and self-published – and has won awards for her writing.

Today was such a chance for me.

Fiona McArthur is on the hustings (at least virtually in a covid environment), promoting her latest published tome, The Farmer’s Friend. Now, ‘farmer’s friend’ has a whole meaning on its own, but in this case, the story was loosely inspired by her son’s taking up of a small-town, general-purpose store, the kind that sells everything from baked beans to cattle feed. The small fictional town explores the nuances of living in a small but geographically spread community, the tragedies that come from living in a relatively isolated valley, and the camaraderie when people pull together to get through tough times. And, of course, the romance and the babies!

I’ve not read the book yet so you won’t be getting any spoiler alert from me but I do know it’s now available at local and national stores for purchase as well as online. Read about the book here.

As a best-selling Australian author Fiona McArthur draws from her life as a rural midwife, and shares her love of working with women, families and health professionals in her books. In her compassionate, pacey fiction, her love of the Australian landscape meshes beautifully with warm, funny, multigenerational characters as she highlights challenges for rural and remote families, those in the city and the strength shared between women.  This book steps the reader away from her rural romances in vast outback landscapes and takes the reader into a smaller world but one equally as entertaining and enjoyable. It explores what makes ‘family’.

What are the lessons gleaned from today’s talk? Here’s a sample of what I took away.

  • Fiona started writing seriously in her 30’s but didn’t see a completed book and success until she leant into her lived experience as a midwife and started putting her knowledge onto the page, woven with romance and stories grounded in quintessentially Australian locales. Message – use what you know – it’s more authentic.
  • When you start with the nub of an idea, and steep yourself into that world, the world opens up for you and your characters – follow where it leads because there are layers of experiences you can bring into your book.
  • Find moments that connect with the reader and be prepared to incorporate social issues such as the increasing prevalence of grandparents bringing up young ones, financial imbalances, mental health matters and so on.
  • Consider writing as an activity that needs attention for it to bear fruit. Fiona writes around 500-1000 words a day every day, or at least two hours. Inspiration isn’t waiting for an invitation, it’s clocked in at writing time.
  • Productivity meets deadlines. Fiona works at one major work and a couple of smaller books each year. That’s possibly around 200,000 words a year. Set yourself some targets even if it’s just a novella or a series of short stories. On top of writing time, remember there’s marketing, promotion, revision, edits, covers and more.
  • Researching an area will reveal some little known facts such as how a produce store works, is stocked and managed – something most people don’t know or need to know but enriches the reader with some inside information. Give your reader some insights.
  • Finally, no matter whether you have one book under your belt, or a half century of them, the more genuine and humble you are, the more readers can relate to you and the more writers are inspired by you. Fiona fits that bill. She’s one of my favourite writers, and humans.

On top of those specific points, Fiona’s talk sparked a few creative ideas which may or may not see the light of day, but they’ve been jotted down and popped into the ‘ideas’ file for when I need some inspiration.

As a reader, author talks let you dive deeper into your favourite writers and their stories and glean more from the behind-the-scenes moments. As a writer, every author approaches writing differently and you can learn tips and technqiues that inform your quest to produce a read-worthy story.

Take advantage of the surfeit of information available in the virtual platforms at the moment and soak up as much as you can before any semblance of normal life returns and we’re whisked back into places where we have less time to indulge ourselves in these stories behind the stories. But don’t just listen: learn.

Best-selling Australian author Fiona McArthur draws from her life as a rural midwife and shares her love of working with women, families, and health professionals in her books. Her compassionate, pacey fiction, blended with a love of the Australian landscape meshes beautifully with warm, funny, multigenerational characters as she highlights challenges for rural and remote families, those in the city, and the strength shared between women.  

Check your local library for upcoming author talks. Mid North Coast Library is outstanding at snaffling writers for chats, workshops, panels, and other events. of course, at the moment those are virtual but they are even better ‘live’. MNC also has an amazingly successful series of Book Clubs throughout the region.

Writing Short Stories and Using Them

12 July, 2021 § Leave a comment

Writing a short story sounds easy. Hey, it’s only a few hundred to a few thousand words, not an 80,000 word opus: much more doable – yes?

Errr, no.

A short story still has to be a story with a beginning, middle and end. It still has to engage a reader to want to keep reading. And the fact that you are using fewer words than a traditional novel means that each word has to work hard. Every word has to pack a punch. Words need to advance the story rather than set elaborate scenes and backstories – you don’t have room for that in a short.

Economy and utility of words is something many fledgling short story writers miss.

What most writers and authors also miss is the value of writing short stories to your marketing and branding.

Lynn Johnston is a successful cartoonist and a prolific author and even during her illness and recovery from Covid-19, still managed to produce bucketloads of words, way more than many healthy, functioning writers. So she knows a thing or two about making your words count.

This video was produced a few years ago but is still relevant today.

Next time you write a decent short, think about how you can make it work harder for you. Watch and learn 🙂

Get Your Writing Mojo Back

10 July, 2021 § Leave a comment

It happens. It’s super-annoying, frustrating and anxiety-inducing when it does, but it happens.

At some point in your writing life, you will hit a period of drought. The words fail to come when you sit down to write. Ideas abandon you for a Summer somewhere else. Cleaning the tracks on the sliding doors with a toothbrush suddenly seem incredibly important when you think about sitting down to write.

The harder you try to plough the field, the drier it gets. And we all know, without that life-giving rain, seeds don’t sprout, crops don’t grow.

Sometimes there’s a trigger and sometimes it just comes out of the blue.

For me, as a fledgling writer it took hold after attending a writer’s conference: an event that was designed to inspire me and fire me up to becoming a productive commercial success. It ended up quashing my creative juices completely. For. Months. Truly. Oh sure, I wrote in between but very little and not much more than a few hundred words for writing classes or small competitions.

Not knowing why I couldn’t write, I poured myself into other activities and a constant series of writing courses and exercises to kick-start the engine. Didn’t happen. But I gained considerable insight into craft issues like point of view, use of place, importance of characterization and so much more.

That’s one thing to keep in mind when the mojo disappears: use the time to develop your craft by doing courses, learning from others, reading books in your genre and spending time at the library looking up writing magazines and books. Make notes about your learning (see? you’re writing!).

Here are some other techniques.

Work out the trigger that stopped you.

It will give a clue on what’s underlying your loss of mojo. In my case, the conference subconsciously had me comparing myself to these other productive and published authors and, in my mind, falling way short. I’ll guarantee you that, unless a tragic circumstance intervened like loss or injury, the foundation is fear. Fear is designed to motivate you to keep you safe. Ask yourself, ‘how is this working for me?’ There’ll be something like failure or rejection that pops up as an answer. You have to name it to conquer it.

Give yourself permission to not write.

It’s ok to take a break. If your mojo has deserted you, take advantage of the opportunity. Play in a new space – take up drawing, pole dancing, volunteering – anything that gives you a different slant at life. Everything you do ends up bleeding onto the page somewhere so it’s never a wasted experience.

Be kind to yourself.

When you stop writing, and you know you should be, your inner critic comes out to play. It will tell you you’re no good, remind you of all the other times you didn’t commit, any negative input it can find will pop into your head. Don’t listen to it! If you do, it will kill your chances of getting your mojo back.

Stress less about not writing and utilise the time to do what will enhance your writing. Let it flow. But don’t let it flow too long. Give yourself permission to ‘take a break’ but then set a deadline to get back into the practice and routine of writing – you don’t want your mojo to take a permanent holiday!

On Teaching Writing

9 May, 2021 § Leave a comment

It never ceases to amaze me … the diverse backgrounds and deep desire people have for learning to write.

I’ve met a wonderful people in my writing workshops over the years.

Here’s a sampling of some of their stories:

  • One has written a family history and has an idea for a story on a relative who was a convict.
  • Another would love to write children’s books with her daughter.
  • Alice is well into her 80’s and is being encouraged by her grandchildren to write down all the fantasy stories she has related to them.
  • Jack has been working on a rollicking good Aussie young adult adventure story.
  • Johann wrote an epic historical family memoir and needs to shape it up for publication.

Each of these is an ordinary person. They work, they have families, pastimes, and pressures. And they have either a burning desire or a persistent itch that drives them to write. Just as all successful and famous writers were and are ordinary.

Well, not all. I met Bryce Courteney many years ago before he became an author. At the time he was a copywriter and in his own fledgling business after being a big success in Advertising in a major firm. He went on to write commercial fiction, publishing annually just in time for Christmas sales. He learned a lot from his advertising career and made sure he wrote to meet the market. He was a unique individual, but he was a regular person.

There lies the magic!

To be a writer is within the reach of anyone.

Let me repeat that: to be a writer is within the reach of anyone. Including you!

All it needs is to find a story to tell. And the commitment to telling it.

Your past, your present, and your future each have nubs of ideas that can turn into a story.

Idea sparks surround you – in the news, advertisements, things that capture your attention, something you heard said, watching people at a cafe. The genesis of a story can be anywhere. It’s a matter of catching that seed, germinating and nurturing it, and watching it grow.

If it fails to thrive, put it aside and plant another story seed.

If you are a writer, you do more than say “one day”. You pick and prod at writing as time permits. You make time to write. You read and learn. You put ink to paper (even if indirectly through a keyboard). And you never let go of the dream of creating a work that gives you satisfaction and possibly appreciation from others.

In the words of Winston Churchill, “Never give up”.

Get Writing. Only You Can Write Your Words.

Life Writing

30 April, 2021 § Leave a comment

When someone is about to embark on a writing journey, they often do so because they want to document their memories, or those of someone close to them. Why? Either for posterity or to share a fascinating period of time or to distribute to family now and in the future to give a glimpse of the times they lived through.

In fact, life writing, or memoir, can be one of the best places to start your writing practice. You don’t need to worry about imagination, or being creative, or deciding what genre or style to write in … you simply write from memory. You write the life you know, have experienced and can talk reliably about. Who else is an expert on your life more than you?

If you are one of those organised people who has kept a diary for all or part of your life, your raw material is easily accessible! The rest of us have to rely on memory, and we know how unreliable that can be.

Writing about a period of your life can be entertaining, cathartic, difficult, humorous, and everything in between.

Personally, I avoided writing memoir pieces for two reasons. Firstly my memory is limited: a lot of my life is blank and I rely on photographs much of the time to recall certain things. For those times I don’t have a physical image, I have an emotional or mental image in mind. Secondly, it can be painful bringing back some memories and life events. They say not to dwell on the past but at some point we all revisit it to reminisce or remember.

If you’re intending to publish your memoir, then making it easy for the reader to engage in your story is paramount. In all writing, you need to find a way to let the reader into what’s in your mind that you are trying to share or replicate for them. How you do that is through traditional story-telling techniques.

In memoir, perhaps one of the best methods is to employ the ‘show, don’t tell’ approach.

When writing a piece, aim to recollect as much sensory detail as you can.

  • What season of the year was it? What time of day? Example, ” Wearing my shiny new black shoes, I skipped through the freshly fallen leaves that were all tones of yellow, brown and orange: I felt them crunch under my foot.” That gives you the sense this piece takes place around Autumn/Fall. Much better for the reader than saying, “it was autumn.”
  • Think about the feelings you had at the time and where you felt it in your body. “I knew I did wrong and my throat started to constrict, my tummy tightened and my chest felt like it would fall in on itself. I hid my hands behind my back: I knew I was in for the Principal’s cane.” That has more import for the reader than “I was scared going to the Principal’s office because I knew I’d get the cane.”
  • Which of your senses were involved? Was there a certain smell, aroma or scent? Were there noises around that were distinctive like “the rumble of an approaching locomotive”? Could you taste something? How about the physical feel of something, example, “the yellowing linen on Grandma’s table was crisp and standing to attention. I ran my hands over the tablecloth and it was smooth – so stiff I didn’t dare crinkle it.” Sounds, scents and tactile memories are keys to readers memories and imagination. You can use music to underline a period of time: “and I heard ‘Let It Be’ by the Beatles playing in the background” puts the memory around 1970 and will probably have your reader singing the words in their head.
  • In your memory piece, were other people involved? Who was there? What role did they play? How did you feel about those people? How did you feel about them being there? Alluding to them or describing them and the impact of the other people being there brings your reader in as well.
  • Did anything change, alter or shift during this period? Was it a pivotal moment in some way?

Memoir or life writing is more than the simple retelling of events. The more visceral you can make the experience, the more you can engage your reader to really make them feel as though they are in the moment with you/your character.

Use emotion, sensory cues and lots of showing (not telling) to bring this life-writing alive.

Make your reader want to turn the page to find out more.

memoir and life writing
Photos make wonderful memory prompts
This article was inspired by an online webinar presentation led by Dr Alison Daniell on the topic of Life Writing, held by Southampton University.
Photo credit: jarmoluk @ Pixabay

Entering Writing Competitions

26 April, 2021 § Leave a comment

Why enter a writing competition?

Entering a writing competition forces you to write. It gives you a deadline and, hopefully, a topic or theme. And an impending deadline sure helps to focus the mind! Procrastination thieves are everywhere – if you’re like a lot of writers or aspiring writers then you might be inclined to put things off – you’ll write after … the washing is done, the shopping is done, you polish the car … you get the idea. A whole lot of perfunctory activities suddenly come into into prominence when you know you need to sit down to a blank page.

One of the big reasons people often enter writing competitions is the chance to compare your idea of how well you write to how others receive your writing. If your work gets through to the finalist round or you win a prize then that is confirmation of you as a writer. Don’t dismiss the size of competition or how many words you wrote – you made a mark and the judges chose what you wrote. Give yourself a pat on the back, bask in the glow of achievement and set your sights on writing the next entry.

How to win a writing competition?

Well, obviously, if there were a formula we’d all be winning and there’d really be non competition!

Surprisingly though, a lot of writers knock themselves out of contention before they even get to be read.

1. Firstly, you have to enter to win. Sounds simple enough but how many times have you printed out the entry form with the Terms and Conditions and lost them in the detritus of daily living, only to find them when the deadline has passed? Oh. It’s just me then? Or, you talk yourself out of actually writing by listening to that Negative Nancy in your noggin – tell her to take a hike until you’re done writing. Set up a ‘Competiton’ folder both on your computer and your desk to keep details of competitions in so you don’t lose them. I put them in deadline-date order.

2. Once you have the deadline date, the next thing to do is to pencil that in your diary – even if you’re just thinking about it. (If you are a Master Procrastinator, put the date a couple of weeks earlier!).

3. When you decide which comp to enter, use that end-date as the starting point to writing: calculate how many days/weeks you have along with the number of words required – schedule your writing time for that entry. Set your end date at least a week ahead so you have time to review and revise before submitting.

4. Before you start writing, read the Terms and Conditions, thoroughly. Especially note the open/close dates, word count limit, any theme, the purpose or reason for the competition that might give clues on what material is expected), format requirements, submission method eg online, email or by post. Research the organiser – that might inform you about their expectations or preferences with might give you an edge.

5. Word counts noted are usually fixed as a maximum, not suggested. Do not go over them and don’t go too far under them. If the entry states 1000 words and you send in 1001 … you’ll be thrown in the slush pile without a look-in. Note, word count often excludes Title, but check! Conversely, if you send in 250 words for a 1000 word comp, you’ll also be out. Match your entry close to the required word count but never over it.

6. Formatting is critical to follow – again, another opportunity to be eliminated. If the entry form asks for Courier 12pt single spaced and you send in 10pt Marker Felt double spaced, you’re upping the likelihood of being disqualified.

Following the Terms and Conditions of an entry is the first challenge in winning. Organisers review each entry at the beginning and cull those that don’t meet terms. In the ‘first round’ they’ll ask questions such as – has the entry submitted on time? is the layout as requested? Is the word count at or close to what’s been asked? Has the entry fee, if any, been paid? Have other conditions been met eg eligibility, theme etc? These administration actions take place up front, before your entry even has a chance of being submitted to judges.

You’d be surprised how many entries are disqualified at the first hurdle.

“But I wrote a really great story!”

Bad luck.

Adhere to the requirements – they are there for a reason. If you’re not sure about anything ask the organisers or see if their website has a set of FAQs that might help. Keep in mind that organisers get hundreds if not thousands of entries and it’s not possible to respond individually.

With the technicalities out of the way, let’s look at writing your piece.

Consider what the organisers are looking for in any entry. Then, muse how the typical writer might respond … and brainstorm alternate approaches that are a little different. Twists, quirks and unexpected entries stand out from the pack – that can be a good thing if you are on target with your entry in all other respects.

For fiction, focus on your storyline, keep your point of view consistent, along with your style and tone.

Keep the reader engaged with pace and some tension.

Do some research where necessary to make your entry as good as possible.

Write your piece as best you can. Then put it aside for a while. Go play with something else then revisit your writing entry and see if you can revise it and improve it.

Remember to edit and proofread before hitting ‘ submit’. Give yourself every opportunity to put in your best entry.

Sad to say, there are no magic methods to winning a writing competition. You need to write a good story that fits the brief and meets requirements. The number of people who fail to give themselves a fair chance by not meeting requirements, or not even submitting is surprising! Don’t be that person.

Want a handy reference to what’s in this article? I created an informative infographic to keep on your bulletin board to remind you of the key points in entering a writing competition. Grab it below.